By Sam McPherson
Whatever plan the 2014 Oakland Raiders had for this season can officially be thrown out the window now: the team’s 0-4 start has established some clear realities going forward for the final 12 games on the schedule.
First, the offense can’t run the ball effectively with the current running backs. Second, the defense isn’t reliable on a week to week basis. And third, someone in charge needs to decide if Head Coach Dennis Allen is the right leader for this team going forward.
This trio of challenges is not going to be solved overnight, of course, but the team can now use its bye week to focus on an organization strategy going forward—one that makes sense, since the Raiders are so far away from competing and succeeding in the NFL right now.
The running game needs a change
A quick look at the running backs’ collective numbers this year is pretty scary: Darren McFadden has 45 carries for 151 yards in four games. He is by far the team’s leading ball carrier, as no one else has more than 11 carries.
Maurice Jones-Drew has those 11 carries for 12 total yards. Yes, he’s been hurt, but dating back to his time in Jacksonville, MJD hasn’t been consistently good since 2011. He will be 30 years old next spring, and like many backs before him, his effectiveness has dropped sharply as he approaches that age demarcation line.
The Raiders need to give Latavius Murray the ball now, and see what he can do with it. He has just four carries this season for seven yards, but he should be the primary backup to McFadden, and MJD should only be used on third downs now as a pass receiver out of the backfield.
Maybe this youthful spark can ignite the Oakland offense, because as it is right now, the team isn’t scoring effectively at all. With 51 total points this season in four games — and a good portion of those points coming in garbage time — the Raiders need something different on offense, or else they could go 0-16.
The defense needs to get healthy
Bye weeks are for getting injured players back, and the Raiders need linebacker Nick Roach to recover from his concussion issues. The defense is very inconsistent right now, and the Oakland organization as a whole would benefit from seeing their young defensive QB back on the field.
However, the team lost its leading tackler—strong safety Tyvon Branch—before Game Four, too, and everyone saw what happened in London. How will the Raiders replace Branch? He’s played in just five games now in two seasons, and he won’t be back until next season.
With so many injuries and aging veterans on the defense, Oakland just can’t maintain the consistency needed on defense to win in the NFL. Right now, there’s a pattern: Week One was good, Week Two was bad, Week Three was good, Week Four was bad.
The next game should be a “good” one, right? Especially with two weeks to plan. But this isn’t a pattern for success, so the Raiders need to get healthy and find some young, hungry talent somewhere to make this defense better.
After all, there’s nowhere to go for the Oakland defense.
Make a firm decision on the head coach
The AP tweet that caused such a firestorm after the London game withstanding, the Raiders have to decide if Dennis Allen is the one to lead this talent-bereft team going forward. If not, let him go right now and make it clear what the plan for a new hire is right away. And if so, then commit to giving Allen some real players for the future.
The team has not been competitive in Allen’s 36 games as the head coach, and a lot of that blame goes to the organization for its poor trades, poor drafts and poor salary-cap management. So has the owner seen enough from Allen to keep him and commit to winning again? The old mantra—”Commitment to Excellence”—hasn’t been seen in Oakland for a long time.
The Raiders need to decide right now where they stand: with their coach, with their team and with their future.
Otherwise, they’ll just continue to be bottom feeders and a running joke in NFL circles, recycling used up veterans and losing 12+ games every season.
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Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on a Examiner.com.